The Owl Flies Again

April 3, 2019
John Gillooly, Brewmaster

A couple years ago, we released an Imperial Brown ale with coffee called Electric Owl. People here at the brewery loved the beer, and it had quite a few fans. For some reason though, I’ve never brewed it again.  Not really sure why - I think that was when we were starting to get into Hazy IPA and that’s where we were routing our creativity - or maybe not! But every so often, the Owl would pop up in our consciousness, and we finally determined to get back at it. Our primary inspiration to do so was probably Emmy Smith, our soon to be departed Lead Brewer and major Owl fan.  

With our resolve steeled, we plunged into another round of Electric Owl production. Over time, we’ve paired with a few different local coffee companies - Blue Bottle, Sightglass and HighWire primarily, and when we decided to do this project again we chose to pair up with HighWire. Emmy and I went to their roastery to taste our way through an amazing array of coffees, and after a lot of contemplation we picked a washed Ethiopian coffee called Guji Uraga. This coffee really stood out for an almost lemony brightness, with expressive jasmine aromatics as the cup cooled.  We agreed that a very light roast was what was appropriate to that coffee, to maintain the aromatics.

Now that we were settled on the coffee, we reviewed the old recipe. Electric Owl has always been a bit of an outlier in the coffee-beer world. Most coffee beers tend to be stouts or porters, so in recipe construction you mostly are just matching roast flavors. Not the hardest job, but in this case, we had a delicate bean that we didn’t want to overwhelm. We matched it with a subtle array of caramelized and lightly roasted malts that we felt would compliment the lightly roasted flavors the beans had, without stepping on the aromatics. Then, to add a bit more compliment to the coffee’s aromas, we sparingly hopped the whirlpool with Amarillo and Bavaria Mandarina, which we felt would match the citrus qualities of the bean, as well as enhancing that jasmine note.

OK, the beer’s planned - time to execute. Different breweries add their coffee in different ways - some do it in the mash, some in the kettle/whirlpool, some in fermentation, some in conditioning (in conditioning actual cold pressed coffee is added). We don’t like using it on the hot-side; our preference is to add it to the fermentation vessel just as primary fermentation is ending - they same process as we use for a dry-hop. We feel like that gives us a similar expression as cold-pressed coffee. That entails climbing up on to the top of a tank, dumping coarsely ground beans in, and then pulling them out of the bottom of the tank 24 hours later (we don’t want too much contact time).

With the beer made, there really wasn’t much more to do but sit back and drink it - until we decided on one last change from the original.  We nitrogenated it. Serving it on nitro, rather than as a standard carbonated beer, turned out to be a hugely beneficial change, and we think it brought the beer up to a whole new level. We hope you agree.

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